Don’t Let Fear Stop You: Be Afraid and Do it Anyway

Don’t let fear stop you – be afraid and do it anyway. Everything we want is on the other side of fear. Making friends with fear is critical.

Don’t Be Afraid of Fear: It’s an Awesome Ally

Sure, changing your life can be frightening. There are many reasons why we get sucked back into the status quo. But the biggest reason? Fear.

Fear of failure, fear of uncertainty, fear of rejection, fear of what’s to come.

None of us can predict how things will turn out when we’re making a change. Maybe we’re embarking on a new job, a new relationship, or some other lifestyle change. Whatever it is, there are good reasons why we should approach it with optimism and excitement.

Especially when we learn to make fear our friend.

The Guard Dog of Our Fear

Fear is omnipresent. Like a guard dog.

Sometimes he is asleep and relaxed. Sometimes his ears go up, and he begins sniffing. Danger is being sensed. If no one does anything about it, he stands up. Then he growls. Then he barks.

The guard dog tells us when to pay attention. Maybe it’s false danger. Maybe it’s not. But we want to have a good relationship with that guard dog.

We want to notice when fear tells us to prick up our ears.

We want to pay attention to it because it’s giving us good information about our next move, our next choice.

Me? I’m still learning to pay attention to the nuances of my fear. Too often don’t listen to the guard dog, which leads me into conflicts I don’t need to have. I confuse communication with others. I shut it out and create dangerous situations.

I can’t say this too many times—making friends with the guard dog of fear is critical.

In our work at the Wright Foundation, fear is the most primary of all our emotions. Why? Because it’s about staying alive.

We’re afraid of so much, but ultimately, we’re afraid of being kicked out of the tribe.

So we get defensive and let our guard dog, our fear, go nuts.

BUT imagine if we had a relationship with our fear. Imagine if we could say BEFORE we said anything else: “I’m afraid this might be misunderstood. What I’m really thinking is _______, and I’d like you to be in on this with me. Can we talk about it?”

When we become partners with our fear, we can anticipate what we’re afraid might happen and choose a whole different approach.

And then the guard dog can lower his ears and lay back down.

Everything we want is on the other side of fear.

Jason Silva – the philosopher of our age – talks to us about our fear and aliveness

“I fear the intensity of life lived this close”

– Jason Silva

Our beliefs about who we are and what the world expects of us stop us from living our lives fully and with authenticity.

We make up stories out of our fear about stepping into unknown selves and an unknown.

Think about it. We go into a grocery store and pick the same 50 items week after week out of infinite ingredients and possibilities. Without even knowing it, we have stories about our dietary expectations of ourselves.

What’s that odd-looking fruit? What’s that strange fish? I don’t know about that spice. I’ve never tasted it before, but it doesn’t seem like something I’d like.

And we do the same things with our lives. We pick the same 50 options out of an infinite array of opportunities because we have a story about our lives.

And that story begins and ends with fear.

At the Wright Foundation, we help our students evolve this by teaching them the assignment way of living.

Why? As humans, most of us would rather have known pain than unknown pleasure. We’re afraid to let some aspect of ourselves die or expand.

So, would it be better for us just to ignore the fear and push through?

Where I Should Have Let Fear Stop Me

I had an enormously successful launch of a book on people skills in the beauty industry, and we were selling the book into beauty schools.

I was in a meeting with the heads of beauty schools, and they were all very engaged in the subject. Then one of them said something that sounded like horse manure to me (guard dog lifts his head.) And I immediately got into a debate about it (guard dog stands up,) causing this person to feel embarrassed (guard dog is madly barking.)

But I was insensitive to it.  I was insensitive to the danger. Why did I ignore the guard dog? I was too in love with my own thinking. I wasn’t aware of the danger in the situation. I could have sensitively addressed what was said with a question. But instead, I just went right at it. And that person got defensive, and I got more aggressive.

And I lost the room of about fifty very important people.

I don’t listen to my fear enough. I often don’t even recognize it until I’ve made the faux pas. I don’t adequately sense the vulnerability of other people.

Where I’m comfortable debating something, others find it as a put-down. Freud would call it an ego-insult. They would see me as a punitive parent. That’s where my self-fulfilling prophecy has come in. But that’s another blog.

Listening to my fear has been an ongoing lesson for me throughout my career. My problem is not befriending it to win more hearts and minds.

Rather than learning to meet YOU at your most raw and vulnerable, I’ve managed my fear by testing: will you take me at my most raw and aggressive?

I’ve had some pretty embarrassing experiences that I don’t really want to go into, but I think you get the point.

When we make fear our friend, the ending of the story may be a much more pleasant surprise.

Ultimately, We’ll Face Our Fear and Say the Right Thing, Right?

In 1951, Solomon Asch conducted a well-known conformity experiment. He told the participants it was a “visual perception test.” The participants didn’t know that the other participants were actors.

The test? Visually assess lines to see which two matched in length. The correct answer was obvious, and the rest of the responses were wrong.

When presented with the first few lines, everyone would choose the obvious answer. However, after a few turns, the actors began to select the wrong answer. At first, the participants would go against the crowd and choose the correct answer. But as the experiment went on, their resolve waned.

Eventually, 75% WOULD CHANGE THEIR RESPONSE to match what the rest of the room said—even though they knew it was wrong. Even more shockingly, half of the 75% would eventually perceive the wrong answer as correct—they would see the wrong line length!

Will we ever be able to face our fear and say the right thing, whatever that right thing feels like for us?

Yes, if we let ourselves have a relationship with our fear. If we are in good rapport with our guard dog. If we grow our social and emotional intelligence and learn to listen to our fear—not judge it or ignore it or revise it.

Fear is here.

How much we allow that to be true will determine how long it will be here.

Be More Self (Care)-Ish: It’s Good for Everyone

We hear a lot about the importance of self-care these days, but what does it really mean, and why is it so important that we CARE about ourselves?

A woman sholding a mug of tea, looking out the window with a slight smile on her face. Text overlay reads "Be More Self(Care) Ish: Self-Compassion is Good For Everyone" with the Wright Foundation logo

Being selfish feels wrong somehow, am I right?

For many of us, we’ve been told to work hard, be busy, take care of others, achieve at all costs… If we put attention on ourselves, we’re selfish, or self-centered, or… If we aren’t working or busy or productive, then we’re lazy or unmotivated. This teaches us NOT to care about ourselves for most of our lives. We’ve been told NOT to put our well-being first.

But I’m here to say, “Do it! Care about yourself first!”

Why? Because:

  1. If we don’t, no one else will either.
  2. When we’re healthier, everyone around us becomes healthier.
  3. Burn-out is serious, especially with everything going on in the world right now.
  4. Self-care also means honoring commitments we make to ourselves, creating great personal power.

“When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better too.”

– Paulo Coelho

What Does Self-Compassion Have to Do with Feeling Safe?

Dr. Kristen Neff, a pioneer in the field of self-compassion, confirms that one of the biggest reasons we aren’t more self-compassionate is that we’re afraid we’ll become self-indulgent. We’re worried we’ll get soft or lazy. We believe that self-criticism keeps us in line and at the top of our game.

But what do we do then when we feel afraid or hurt or angry or sad? True self-care means letting ourselves have our feelings. ALL of them. Especially the ones that make us uncomfortable—and we know which ones they are! Feelings don’t make us soft. They make us human.

Let’s explore fear. As humans, we all long to feel secure from the time we are born. First, we look to our parents to feel safe. Then we try to bring a sense of security into our lives by understanding our environment, seeking what is familiar, and predicting outcomes.

As we grow up, we learn that certainty equals security.

So when our world feels a little shaky, we begin to feel afraid, and we start doing everything we can NOT to feel that. We ignore it. We pretend it’s not real. We numb ourselves.

One of the first things we tell our students at Wright is that when our feelings feel like too much, we can use the term coined by Dan Siegel and “name it to tame it.” Neuroscience research shows that when we name our emotions, they often feel less confusing and overwhelming. There are many articles on this – here’s a particularly powerful one.

Think about small children. When they have a terrible moment, they let it out immediately. And they immediately feel better. It’s not a coincidence. The emotions we don’t let out and express will always eat us up and make us feel miserable.

And that’s when our soft addictions, those seemingly harmless habits that so often disguise themselves as self-care, start throwing a party. Literally and figuratively.

Why Binge-Watching Netflix is NOT Self-Care

One of the reasons soft addictions are such an easy way to feel like we’re nourishing ourselves is that they offer immediate gratification.

How simple is it to drive through and grab a triple-shot-non-fat-light-on-the-extra-whip-decaf-espresso? How easy is it to go online and shop ‘til we drop? We instantly feel a little rush, like we’re somehow making the moment special, and don’t we all deserve that?

We do! And that’s what makes soft addictions so sneaky.

Is there anything more satisfying than hitting the “watch next episode” button on Netflix or Hulu or whatever you’re zoning out to?

Yes, there is! And though the satisfaction is not immediate, it’s sustaining.

Don’t get me wrong. I love donuts and chocolate as much as the next person. And watching a movie with my husband can be fabulous. And anyone who knows me knows I love to shop!

But now, I try to do these things while understanding the yearning underneath them that I am trying to satisfy. Yearnings are the deepest longing of our hearts, and they are universal: to love and be loved, to touch and be touched, to connect, to create, to be seen, to be heard, and as I said earlier, to feel safe and secure.

When we know the yearning beneath the want, we can turn the soft addiction into an act of self-care.

So if I know that I’m yearning to connect, I’ll communicate to my husband BEFORE I snuggle up next to him for a movie. When I do that, I’m honoring my own heart. I’m being present with myself AND with him. And when the movie ends, I’ll know my yearning to connect is just beginning.

You Can’t Please Everyone, So…

What happens when we don’t practice a life of deep self-care?

What happens when we choose to ignore our yearnings and focus instead on external things? We can end up living an inauthentic life.

When we spend all our precious days simply trying to please others, we often end up facing the end of our lives with regrets and resentments.

Here are the top four regrets that people have on their deathbed:

  1.     I wish I dared to be my real self and not how others wanted me to be.
  2.     I wish I had lived a life true to myself and not the life others expected of me.
  3.     I wish I had the courage to express my feelings.
  4.     I wish I had faced my fear of change and let myself be happier.

All four of those wishes encompass self-compassion. They each express the desire to acknowledge our feelings and say them out loud. And that they each question the social norm, especially when it goes against our joy.

“How you love yourself is how you teach others to love you.”

– Rupi Kaur

Of course, I’m not saying to ignore the needs of others. Living a life of self-compassion includes living a life of compassion. But the truth is, when we know how to show kindness to ourselves, we’re far more likely to know how to show compassion to others.

What’s the first thing the flight attendants instruct us to do before the plane takes off? To put on our own oxygen masks first. Because if we run out of oxygen, we can’t help anyone.

Self-care and self-compassion are the oxygen masks we must put on each day. We can show up as our best selves, physically and emotionally, when we do.

We can meet the world and whatever it’s offering at the moment, with our whole and authentic selves.

The Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential is a leadership institute located in Chicago, Illinois. Wright Foundation’s performative learning programs are integrated into the curriculum at Wright Graduate University.